Honours system should reward volunteer work, 'not the day job'

29 Aug 2012 News

A Public Administration Select Committee inquiry into the 850-year-old honours system has concluded that too many people are rewarded for "doing their day job" and more people undertaking voluntary work in their communities should be honoured.

Dame Mary Marsh is chair of the Philanthropy Committee, a sub-committee of the Main Honours Committee

A Public Administration Select Committee inquiry into the 850-year-old honours system has concluded that too many people are rewarded for "doing their day job" and more people undertaking voluntary work in their communities should be honoured.

In a report published this morning the Committee outlined its recommendations to government for change within the bi-annual honours system that rewards people for "merit, service or bravery". The report requests a stronger focus on voluntary action:

"We believe that no-one should be honoured for simply 'doing the day job', no matter what that job is. In particular, honours should not be awarded to civil servants or businessmen unless it can be demonstrated that there has been service above and beyond the call of duty," it says.

"Instead honours should only be awarded for exceptional service to the community or exceptional achievement above and beyond that required in employment. This would result in a far higher proportion of honours being awarded to people who devote their time to their local community, instead of politicians, civil servants, and celebrities."

The report also raised concerns over the inequal treatment of those working in the third sector. While many public and private sector workers were awarded honours for their everyday work, the same is not applied to those working in the voluntary sector.

The report said: "Sir Garth Morrison, the Lord Lieutenant of East Lothian, contrasted the 'well paid' chief executives of NHS Trusts, with people in the voluntary and charitable sector who had not been recognised by the honours system.

"Sir Garth also argued that officials selecting honours recipients applied 'a different standard' when considering state servants compared to nominations of people who volunteered in their local community. He had found that individuals  involved in, for example, their local Scout group, would not be considered for an honour unless they could demonstrate additional other work in their community," the report advises.

The recommendations follow an nfpSynergy survey that found that almost half of the public thought that volunteers deserved more credit. The same survey found that MPs were considered the least worthy recipients, while just 14 per cent of the public thought that nurses who had worked in their roles for more than ten years should receive honours.

Michele Madden, managing director at nfpSynergy welcomed the report: "It's fantastic news that the ordinary people who do extraordinary things to support their local communities and charities will be recognised," she said.

Identifying voluntary recipients

The Committee welcomed the announcement by the government that it would reintroduce the British Empire Medal which would recognise up to 300 local volunteers in each honours round. While it advised that there was aversion to the use of the word 'Empire', the Committee noted that changing this would be too complex due to the Order of the British Empire being enshrined in law. 

However the process of identifying worthy recipients for Honours is hindered somewhat by Lords Lieutenant not being utilised to their fullest, the Committee advises. The Lords Lieutenant are the Queen's representatives in the counties. The report advises that their local knowledge "could be crucial" in finding the most deserving people in their communities. But it advises that the Lords' role varied depending on location, and their roles in considering nominations are "extremely limited", particularly in Scotland.


Dame Mary Marsh (pictured), who as well as being the first director of the Clore Social Leadership Programme is also the chair of the State Honours Committee and the Philanthropy committee, was forced to defend the Committee's stance on rewarding philanthropists.

Several participants in the study suggested that the ability to donate a large sum of money should not automatically grant you an honour, and that no individual should be allowed to "buy their place" on the Honours roll.

The report states that Dame Mary countered these stances by advising that philanthropists receiving Honours must give "time, commitment and sustained engagement with the particular cause [...] and have made a significant difference through their philanthropy".

The Committee concludes that this was the correct system for awarding philanthropists but emphasise that "Honours should also be awarded to recognise the contribution of those who donate time but not money to their local communities".

View recent voluntary sector Honours recipients here.



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